Enucleation Surgery: What to Expect if Your Pet Loses an Eye

Eye removal surgery

Eye injuries are some of the most common injuries our pets endure. Injuries that affect the eye have a wide range of severity, from simple irritation, to surface scratches, to deep ulceration. Treatment options for eye injuries depend on the type and severity of the problem. Mild injuries can often be treated with eye drops and oral medications, while more serious problems will require surgical intervention. Then there are eye conditions so severe that they cause chronic pain and result in loss of vision. In such situations, sometimes removing the eye is the best option to manage pain and complications. Your vet can safely remove the injured eye if needed through a procedure called enucleation. Continue reading to learn about enucleation surgery in pets, including prognosis and recovery.

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What is Enucleation and Why is it Done in Pets?

Enucleation is the surgical removal of the entire eye. This procedure is typically done to remove a severely injured eye that cannot be managed medically or surgically anymore. The eye problem usually causes severe pain and discomfort, and removing the eye is the safest viable option to relieve the affected pet’s suffering.

Another situation where a vet may recommend enucleation is in cases of eye tumors. Some eye tumors can be aggressive and painful. They may also have a risk of spreading to neighboring tissues and organs such as the brain or the skull if not removed.

Enucleation procedures are considered a last resort option and are only considered when initial steps to treat the eye are not effective. In the case of eye tumors, enucleation procedures can be considered a preventive step against the spread of the tumor or a means to get a definitive diagnosis (through biopsy) to have a more targeted treatment plan.

How is the Enucleation Procedure Performed?

A thorough eye exam is usually done to assess the specific condition of the eye and

determine if enucleation is indeed the best option for the pet. Enucleation procedures are done under general anesthesia. Your vet will screen your dog or cat to make sure that they will be able to tolerate going under anesthesia with minimal risks of complications.

The procedure involves the removal of the entire eyeball, leaving a space in the eye socket which will be closed by stitching the upper and lower eyelids together. Typically, absorbable sutures are used for procedures like this to eliminate the need for suture removal.

What to Expect When Your Pet is Recovering from an Enucleation

The main goal of care after the surgery is to make sure that the wound heals without any complications such as suture failures or infection. After the surgery, your vet will likely send you home with an Elizabethan collar (cone) to make sure that your pet will not try to scratch the wound and cause more injuries.

You may also be sent home with antibiotics and pain medication to manage pain while the wound is healing and to prevent infection from setting it. In some cases, a pressure bandage is placed on the wound to help prevent fluid from building up in the space left by the removed eyeball.

You will be asked to go back to your vet 7-10 days after the surgery for a follow-up check to see how the wound is healing and if there’s a need to adjust the post-operative medications. If a pressure bandage was placed over the surgical wound, you will likely be requested to return around 3 to 4 days after the surgery to have the bandage removed.

During the healing stage, it’s important to closely monitor the surgical wound and check it daily. If you start to observe signs of severe inflammation and redness, or if discharge starts to ooze from the incision, you have to reach out to your vet, as these are signs that the wound is possibly infected and will need urgent medical care.

While the wound is healing, some degree of inflammation and bruising is expected, but there shouldn’t be profuse discharge coming from the surgical wound. Your pet may lose their appetite during the first few days after the surgery, but it should gradually pick up as the wound heals. Wearing an Elizabethan collar can also be stressful for your pet and may cause them to not move around as much during the first few days until they can get used to it. If you’re worried that your pet will be able to drink or eat with the Elizabethan collar on, fret not, as these collars are designed in a way that will let them eat or drink without having to remove them.

What to Look Out For After Your Pet Has Their Eye Removed

Part of caring for your pet after an enucleation surgery is being able to identify signs of complications early so we can provide appropriate medical intervention.

While normal inflammation can be expected, the surgical wound should not become severely inflamed to the point that the wound starts to open up or the sutures start cutting through the skin of the eyelids.

Minimal transparent, yellowish, or pinkish discharge can sometimes be observed and is often considered normal, but profuse discharge, active bleeding, or pus coming out from the wound are signs of complications.

If you start to observe any of the symptoms mentioned above, it’s best to reach out to your vet to have the wound checked and possibly treated.

Adjusting to Life After Enucleation

Enucleation procedures will result in you having a one-eyed, partially blind pet. While this can be initially scary, it’s important to realize that owning a one-eyed dog or cat is not that different from owning a pet with complete eyesight. Dogs and cats with one eye adapt very well to the situation and will go back to their usual self in a short time.

Read more:

How Can I Tell if My Dog is Blind?

First Aid for Your Pet’s Eye

Eye Tests for Pets: Fluorescein Staining, Schirmer Tear Test, and Tonometry

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